In The Drowning, a set of three islands has been overrun by a zombie-type infestation. These creatures were created by drowning in water that was polluted by an oil spill. This sets up what could be an arduous yet intriguing campaign. Unfortunately, the hope and promise of a quality campaign is short-lived. The game is made up of arcade-style levels, peppered with short story-related cut scenes, which ends up making the setting feel hollow.
Although the story is rather shallow, that doesn’t mean the experience is entirely ruined. These arcade-esque levels actually deliver a decent amount of fun. Within each level the main goal is to earn as many stars as possible. Each star that is earned unlocks a variety of objects: vehicles, guns, and miscellaneous parts that allow you to construct and upgrade the vehicles and weapons.
This star-based, scavenger system helps add a little variety to the game. Don’t get me wrong– the game is repetitive. The maps don’t offer much variety and the gameplay doesn’t differ much from island to island. But each star you earn brings you closer to acquiring a new weapon gives you enough motivation to overcome the redundancy. Finding a broken AK-47, then realizing that with a few more stars you will have all the parts to construct the weapon is quite gratifying. In playing, I couldn’t help make the comparison to a horde-mode experience with the looting of a hack-‘n-slash RPG, albeit a watered-down version of both.
The Drowning attempts to stand out with an innovative first-person control scheme. In this system you tap to move to a specific spot, allowing for easy movement throughout each map. To shoot you simply tap two fingers on the enemy; this works great and lets you knock down the enemy rather smoothly. Moving and shooting by themselves work great, but together they come up short. When tapping to move and then tapping to shoot you stop moving, leaving you vulnerable to attack.
The setup isn’t great when you’re surrounded, either. When I became overcome by enemies these controls felt inadequate. Attempting to evade while attempting to shoot proved frustrating. Maybe with some fine tuning these controls can become quite good, but for the time being I recommend the standard FPS control setup.
The Drowning is a free-to-play title and with that comes in-app purchases. Most of the IAPs are quite unobtrusive. Weapon and vehicles can be unlocked and upgraded without making a purchase, but it requires some grinding by replaying maps.
Although most IAPs are inconspicuous there is one that can really kill the vibe of the game. The Drowning features a “gas-can” timer: play three matches, then wait 30 minutes for the gas-can to fill. In playing those three matches I found myself getting in the groove of the game by earning stars and unlocking weapons, only to see the that groove (and at times excitement) end because I was out of “gas.” To wait 30 minutes to “earn” a few minutes of gameplay is deflating and leaves the experience with a sour taste. A more balanced system would greatly help in keeping a solid flow of gameplay.
The Drowning doesn’t feature a solid story or nuanced gameplay, but its solid arcade-shooting mixed with a nice amount of unlocks helps deliver a positive gameplay experience. Unfortunately this fun is crippled by an unbalanced timer system that limits game time in favor of an in-app purchase.